PLOT: A retired federal agent's quiet life is shattered when a drug dealer begins to threaten the safety of he and his daughter.
REVIEW: Why doesn't HOMEFRONT work? It's a ripped-from-the-80s backwoods action thriller written by Sylvester Stallone, starring the always sturdy Jason Statham and featuring James Franco as the villain, a meth-making redneck. How does this not add up to guilty pleasure gold? It may sound ridiculous, but HOMEFRONT is one of the bigger disappointments of the latter half of this year - if only because it doesn't even achieve a very achievable status as schlocky-enjoyable B-movie.
What I take away from HOMEFRONT is no one looks like they're having any fun. For some reason, the cast is selling this as straight-faced as possible, as if the measly arcs of these characters actually matter. I'm not suggesting cast and crew wink at the camera or ham it up unnecessarily, but there's a point at which you have to recognize your film is meant to be a knee-slapper, not a head-scratcher. They've gone about this all wrong.
Statham is, as ever, reliable. Working on the kinder, gentler side of his range (as opposed to manic and mean), he plays former federal agent Phil Broker who, after nearly getting killed busting up a drug ring, moves to Louisiana with his daughter (Izabela Vidovic) for a simpler life, working on a farm and fixing up an old house. Things don't stay quiet for long, however, because his daughter, protecting herself from a bullying schoolmate, punches the kid with the ease you'd expect from a Statham-raised child. This does not go over well with the bully's mother, a nightmarish piece of white trash played by Kate Bosworth (who gives one of the film's few good performances). Outraged at the incident, the woman wants retribution and calls upon her brother, Gator (James Franco), something of a bully in his own right, to settle the score.
So you've got a petty feud that's about to blow up, as Gator goes about intimidating Phil and his daughter (who of course are not easily intimidated). Things escalate even further when Gator discovers Phil's former status as a fed; Gator sees this as an opportunity to make a deal with the man whom Phil recently put away, a hulking mobster named Jimmy T (Chuck Zito). It's Gator's thinking that, if he offers up Phil to Jimmy T. for free, he'll in turn have an opportunity to expand his meth distribution with the help of the criminal. Because doing business with someone who is incarcerated is always a bright idea.
The plot gets a bit overly complicated, but what most of this comes down to is watching Statham do what he does best: beating suckers down. (Sometimes a car or building will explode to add flavor.) The action is cut together frenetically, making it near impossible to tell what's happening. Strange, considering we know Statham has got the goods physically and can sell the various kicks and punches. Rack it up to director Gary Fleder either thinking he's got to enhance what he views as boring action with jarring editing, or possibly the simple fact that the creative team imagines quick cuts are what's "in", and so they must follow along. Either way, it's an unlikable experience, watching these simple fistfights being cut into a million pieces unnecessarily.
But you can see about a dozen Jason Statham movies where he beats up two dozen guys handily in the space of 90 minutes; what sets HOMEFRONT apart is this odd supporting cast of well-known actors trying out their best Southern twangs and playing dirt balls. Chief among them is James Franco as "Gator Bodine", and you've got to think "Oh cool, here's Franco doing one of his weird pieces of performance art, but now in a low-rent revenge thriller setting Should be a hoot." But the sad truth is, there's no conceivable reason he should appear in this movie. The character isn't juicy or interesting beyond the superficial nastiness. Plus, there are no opportunities for Franco to go over-the-top, since Gator is a rather bland creation. Either Franco should have let himself off the leash completely, or someone needed to punch up the role and give it some serious attitude. As it is, they've done the unthinkable and made a James Franco-as-evil-redneck character sort of lame.
Winona Ryder shows up as Franco's girlfriend, who is just as grimy as he is. But again, the effect is unsatisfying, actually kind of awkward. Ryder certainly gives more energy to her Sheryl than Franco does to Gator, but there's an overwhelming feeling that she's simply slumming it in an unexceptional role for no conceivable reason. Unfortunately, you end up feeling bad for the actress, wondering what in the hell she's doing in this thing.
Emerging the most successful of the ensemble is Kate Bosworth, who plays strung-out and low-down and totally nails it. Aided by a gaunt appearance, Bosworth's Cassie is a thoroughly obnoxious creation, and quite a convincing one at that. You don't doubt that a person like Cassie would gladly escalate a minor incident into a full-blown war for the most asinine of reasons. No offense to her, she's been a capable actress throughout her career, but it's startling to watch her blow away everyone else she shares the screen with each and every time.
Maybe HOMEFRONT would have been more fun had it been made a few decades ago and starred Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson, but I'm actually not so sure. Stallone's script is meandering and stuffed with too many characters (we don't need yet another villain but Frank Grillo turns up in the second half as a greasy biker), and at the end of the day, the conflicts between these people are lacking in import and intensity. The bad guys aren't scary enough to make us nervous, and Statham's Phil is often so many steps ahead of them that we're never the slightest bit concerned. This lack of conflict - and the strangely uninteresting, deflating showcase of Franco and Ryder - results in HOMEFRONT resembling a wholly unnecessary picture.
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